Reem Acra is a fashion designer born in Beirut, Lebanon, known for her eponymous bridal gown line and her ready-to-wear collection. Acra came to fame in 1999 for her bridal gowns. As a designer, she's known for detail, new and modern concepts and distinctive tailoring. Her designs are frequently seen on red carpets around the world.
Early Life and Education
Acra was born at the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where her parents both worked. Her mother, Nadia, worked in the family medicine department, and her father, Aftim, was a prominent and distinguished academic, professor, and public health expert.
Acra grew up with three brothers, Michael, Max, and Sari, in Beirut. A live-in seamstress would tailor dresses for her and her mother. She attributes her keen eye to this experience. Shopping with her mother in Beirut souks shaped her earliest experiences with fashion and fabric, and she became fascinated with beading and intricate embroidery after buying a vintage dress from a Bedouin at her mother's urging.
Acra's father, well known for his amber collection, would often hike into the mountains with Acra and her brothers looking for amber. Her early exposure to this world stayed with her and inspired her 2011 ready-to-wear collection.
Acra began to seriously consider fashion in her late teens, after being complimented on one of her own dresses by a woman who encouraged her to join the fashion club at the American University in Beirut, where she was a student. She held a fashion show in June 1982 that attracted 2,000 people.
Acra graduated from the American University in Beirut in 1982 with a business degree, she then took courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, graduating magna cum laude in 1986 and winning the Fashion Design Department’s award for her year. She is recognized as one of the school's most prominent graduates.
After graduating from FIT, Acra studied at the École Supérieure des Arts et Techniques de la Mode design school in Paris.
After her studies at ESMOD in Paris, Acra took mainstream fashion design positions in Hong Kong and Taiwan. At the age of 25 she was overseeing a $30 million project, but left after seven years to start her own line in New York.
Acra worked as a luxury interior designer for three years before starting her own line. She has said interior design is not that different from designing fashion: "Color is color whether it’s on a body or in a room." Acra custom crafts her living quarters making each a show place. Her home in New York was photographed on the cover of the July/August 2012 issue of Harper's Bazaar Interiors.
Acra started her company in 1997 as a bridal line, after designing a dress for a friend's wedding in three weeks, on a bet that if she could meet the deadline, her friend, would go through with the wedding, set in Paris at the Hôtel de Crillon. Acra took a photograph of the dress and distributed it to the media, including The New York Times, which published the photograph.
Soon after, she bought $20,000 in fabric with her American Express card, pitched designs to Saks Fifth Avenue and Kleinfeld, and received an order for thirty dresses. She then worked with 89-year-old Max Kane, who owned a factory on 39th Street in Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen. Acra credits her early success with Kane's mentoring and support. After working with Kane, Acra expanded her business to additional factories and opened her own production centers.
Acra's bridal gowns have been featured on the covers of numerous bridal magazines, including The Knot, Brides, D Wedding, Modern Luxury Brides, Wedding Unveiled, and Town & Country Weddings.
She held her first fashion show in 1999, and with the introduction of her design collection, changed the bridal gown industry, creating a luxury brand niche that previously did not exist. She has held shows during New York Fashion Week each season thereafter.
Acra is an established designer for royalty and celebrities. She has said that Angelia Jolie and Madonna are here two favorite celebrities to dress: "I love Angelina Jolie—there’s not a question. And I love Madonna. For me, those two celebrities are really style icons. They are trendsetters. Just to have the opportunity to dress them is a big deal."
A few of the celebrities who have worn Acra's gowns include:
- Christina Applegate
- Halle Berry
- Jill Biden
- Julie Bowen
- Jane Fonda
- Selena Gomez
- Anna Gunn
- Katherine Heigl
- Angelina Jolie
- Eva Longoria
- Jennifer Lopez
- Olivia Munn
- Nicole Richie
- Kristen Stewart
- Tika Sumpter
- Taylor Swift
- Olivia Wilde
- Reese Witherspoon
- Robin Wright
- Catherine Zeta-Jones
Acra's designs have been featured in and on the covers of numerous magazines and newspapers, both for their design and the celebrities who wear them, including Ciara on the cover of Brides, Lily Allen in Cosmopolitan, and Madonna in Harper's Bazaar.
Her brother, Max, spearheaded the effort to open her store in Beirut, and also helped design the store, which includes Acra's evening wear and ready-to-wear collections, in addition to accessories and a bridal salon. The store is located at 94 Avenue Foch and opened in November 2010.
Acra's retail reach includes Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, and Saks Fifth Avenue in the United States, among other luxury outlets. Her designs are available at Harvey Nichols in Dubai, Hong Kong, Beymen Bridal in Turkey, Al Ostoura in Kuwait, Bloomingdales in Dubai, Symbol in Kiev, and Harrods in London, and other luxury outlets in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Italy, Japan, Kuwait, Lebanon, the Netherlands, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.
In August 2007, a limited edition Reem Acra Bride Barbie doll was released, intended for adult collectors. Acra has said that "Barbie has always been an inspiration. Dressing her was part of every girl’s dream. We had a live-in seamstress who made my clothes; and while she was making my clothes, I would sit next to her and make matching outfits for Barbie with the leftover fabric."
In 2014, Acra designed and produced the uniforms for the American University of Beirut Medical Center, where her parents both had worked.
Awards and Honors
Acra owns a fluffy white Maltese dog named Lou Lou, who travels around the world with her. On location, Lou Lou, now 13 years old, has its own stroller and blue leather carrying bag. Lou Lou has walked the runway during New York's Fashion's Night Out. Acra told the New York Times in 2008: "Though I’m a fashion designer, I never stuff my luggage with too many items. But like many people, I like to travel with a companion. In my case, it’s my 6-year-old Maltese, Lou Lou. She is a great traveler and loves exploring hotels in Paris and other exotic locales."
Acra's home in New York City is a 3,200-square-foot loft in the Garment District, Manhattan. A New York magazine profile of Acra's apartment describes it as featuring: "...[a] striking photograph by Ruven Afanador ... part of an ad campaign for Acra’s bridal business; she enlarged it and let it take over a wall, transforming the image into a piece of art. A table was fashioned from blocks of resin that contain delicate pieces of sequin-embroidered lace that Acra used in her first bridal designs, an idea inspired by her father’s collection of amber.
In addition to her New York City loft, Acra bought and renovated a 2,400-square-foot apartment in the husk of a bombed-out, 19th-century building in Saifi Village near downtown Beirut. A Wall Street Journal story on the apartment characterizes it as having minimal furnishings and bold colors. "I didn't want to overwhelm the place with things," Acra told a reporter for the story.
Sponsorship of the Fédération Equestre Internationale World Equestrian Games
Acra is passionate about horseback riding, and her label has sponsored the Fédération Equestre Internationale World Cup Dressage series since 2010. Acra also has sponsored FEI's annual Best Athlete award and often attends equestrian events held around the world.
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